Today is Ava-Jane’s seventh birthday. And as this is a blog about her, it is a milestone that needs to be acknowledged. And while events engulf us, it is good to be able to recognise these kinds of things. So here’s a picture of the big girl, sorting her candles.
Ain’t she cute and all that… But I have always allowed myself to stray into political things in this blog over the years and we are living through truly seismic political times. I had started writing a post about the referendum the night before it took place. I’ll put what I had written in italics below. Essentially I was trying to articulate the fear I felt, as Ava-Jane’s father, for the kind of disruption the referendum could unleash. I was writing about the fragility of a lot of the structures we rely on across so many elements of our society.
I was really, truly afraid of what the referendum campaign had already done in terms of awakening some very ugly emotions. And I was terrified of what a ‘Leave’ vote would mean. It seemed inconceivable that risking the kind of damage that leaving would do to our economy, our politics and the fabric of our society in order to regain some fabled “sovereignty” or being able to decide the fate of “our” lives. The pack of lies that we were sold has been exposed over and over again by people who can write about it far more coherently than me. So, there is no need for me to pick over it again.
But the impact of what this leave vote means is already apparent to see. The economy is all over the place, just at a time when we were supposedly coming out of the worst recession we have seen for at least a generation. Politics… Where the fuck do you start? Worst of all, there seems to have been a rising of some deeply unpleasant tendencies. This is a revolution and we have no idea of where we are going.
I saw a headline for an article, saying that revolutions eat theirown. Revolutions are ugly and they rarely seem to deliver what the people that initiated them thought they were revolting for. And they do eat their own: Caesar, Robespierre, Trotsky. But what the hell were our own revolutionaries fighting for? What will we have gained from this almighty mess that sits before us?
It is hard to lump together the lies, half-truths and fantasies that the Leave campaign peddled that seemed to chime with 52% of the people who voted. What were they voting for? I see it as desire to return an imagined moment when Britain was “great” and jobs were plentiful. When things are hard, it is common to hark back to some national idyll and to blame “others” for having robbed you of it.
Of course it hard to see history from the perspective of others, but when Britain was great it was great thanks to having built the biggest, protectionist, single market that the world has ever seen. It felt great to us because we set the rules. We were preaching “free trade” when what that meant was that the Empire should have free access to the markets of the world as a bloc, but India or Nigeria could not trade freely with their own neighbours. So, sure we can be great again but it might entail getting ourselves an Empire again, starting with Malaya/Malaysia and working our way backwards.
Immigration eventually seems to have been the issue that turned the vote. Sitting from my rural retreat, living in a village that does not have any immigrants of any type as far as I know, it would be facile to say that immigration is not a problem because it is not a problem for me. Though actually, it does seem that immigration is a hotter topic in places with fewer immigrants than more multicultural places.The obvious example being London, which voted strongly in favour of Remain. What’s that about? On a very anecdotal level I heard of someone who thought that if we got rid of a load of immigrants, we could get the lazy-arse Brits off their couches in Birmingham and into the fields of Lincolnshire to pick potatoes. So it’s not so much a case of “them” coming over here and taking “our” jobs, it’s really “them” taking “their” jobs.
Listening to Grove talking about spending on “our” NHS is just unbearable, anyone who has spent any time in the NHS, knows that “our” NHS is utterly dependent on “them”. And the NHS is all the proof you need that immigration has very little to do with the EU. From the doctors, through all the nursing staff, to the cleaners, there is a mix of Brits, EU, non-EU. We have stolen medical staff from all around the world and we complain that “they” are straining “our” services (I am getting a little tired of having to put apostrophes round “us/our” they/their”, I hope I have made the point!)
Though ironically, if we really want to solve the question of immigration, we might have taken an important step, by tanking the economy, we may have made UK plc that much less attractive a destination and thanks to the market forces that the likes of Gove doff their caps to, we will see far fewer immigrants coming over here and bolstering our economy. Because that is what they do, particularly the kind of immigrants that come here from the EU. They bolster our economy.
In the office block where I work, there is company that compiles reports about press reports on companies internationally. So they employ a lot of Europeans. I smoke with a lot of them, they are young, healthy (apart from the smoking), single, childless, pay taxes. They will probably be here for a few years and then go back to their own countries, having gained some valuable experience and made themselves more employable. They will go back to their own countries to have children, grow old and be unhealthy. I see a lot of myself in them as that is exactly what I did. So they are not going to be a drain on our resources, precisely the opposite, I am. The truth of the matter is that my generation needs a load of young people to come over here to pay taxes to give me access to “our” (I can’ stop myself) NHS free at the point of delivery.
And that should bring us back to Ava-Jane. I have often said that her existence is proof how our taxation system makes us the civilisation that we are. I find it truly awe-inspiring that we live in a society that has invested so heavily in maintaining the life of someone who on many measures will contribute so little. She is alive thanks to the NHS.
Again, I think others have written far better than I could about how much of a fallacy it is to say that the small amount of cash we might be able to recoup from the money we send to the EU could be reinvested in the NHS. The NHS is already massively underfunded and what we need is a proper tax base to pay for it. By leaving the EU we will not only be losing people who pay taxes to fund the NHS, we will also be losing the people who staff it. So good luck Govey seeing if the net amount we get back from the EU according to you covers all of that.
Oh, gosh, this really has become a bit of rant. The thing is that I have been completely incapable of talking about any of this with anyone. I had been quite vociferous on Facebook and socially pre the referendum, but now I am completely speechless. I basically want to swear a lot and that does not seem the best way forward.
I just cannot see any good way out of this. Obviously I think Brexit is a complete calamity and I would love to think that there was some way that, having glimpsed the abyss, we could step back from it. But I think that the referendum, as a process, has given voice to some basic discontent that it will be very difficult to assuage. People have channelled all their frustrations into a rage against the EU. We’ve seen that all the expert opinions saying that a Leave vote would not mean that you would be any richer, or that your community would not suddenly become more like “you” were utterly disregarded. But the referendum has made people feel that their voice had a power that it hadn’t had before.
It feels like almost any next step the political class take will be interpreted as a betrayal. Triggering Article 50 and then fudging some negotiation and ending up like Norway and having to allow free movement of people? A second referendum? A general election that elected a “No Article 50” party, e.g. the Labour Party and we never Brexit?
I can’t see any of those options ending up with anything other than blood on the streets. So do we just take it? Do we just accept that our country has just become a smaller, angrier place that is less able to look after us?
And that’s why I haven’t been speaking or writing about this because I have absolutely no idea of what we should be doing or thinking. I am just worried and I am worried for my little girly who needs so much looking after and does not need an uncertain world.
I really shouldn’t, I really, really shouldn’t… This is a blog about my daughter, Ava-Jane and her trials and tribulations, so I should not be using it as any sort of platform to rant about my political preferences.
But sod it! This is too important for niceties and anyway I think that the decision that is taken tomorrow will have an impact on the lives of all her generation but particularly someone as vulnerable as she is. So I will try to relate this post back to her is some tenuous way.
Being Ava-Jane’s father always makes me feel very sharply the precariousness of the world we live in. She relies so heavily not only on the support of the state but also on the strength of the community around us, from family, to the village, to our friends and it frightens me when I see these structures under threat. These structures are fragile, they might, in normal times feel immovable and constant but they aren’t.
This week, Ava-Jane had a waking EEG. This meant that she went to the hospital on Monday and had a lot of electrodes stuck to her head with very powerful glue. We had a red button, which we had to click the every time she had a spasm. All this was recorded in a black box in a bag that went back to the hospital for analysis. Some boffins will pore over the graphs that the black box spits out and see what was happening on the graphs when we were clicking the button, check those against our notes of what she was doing at the time and hopefully come up with some conclusion as to what is going on in her brain.
All that is just an amazing process laid on by the state that we live in, from the boffins to the doctors, to the nurse who had the unenviable task of having to try to unpick the electrodes from the glue. But also the teachers who presumably took it in their stride having a droid in their class and the woman who accompanies AJ in her taxi to school who had to make sure AJ was distracted enough not to try to pick the stickers off.
Here’s a picture:
And apart from all of this state sponsored support, there are all the people around us, Mum being there to occupy AJ (she is out of pic in the photo above, running Doll’s tea), our lovely Finnish workaway, Amanda or having a boss who understands when I need to run off for another AJ emergency.
I have written before about the part AJ plays in our village community and how she brings out the best in people. We had the village sports day a few days ago and again, the most excellent bunch of big girls swooped on her, took her off me and entered her for as many races as they could. They gave her some intensive egg and spoon holding coaching and pushed her into the medal positions in overall standings. I missed seeing Otto enter her in the hurdles, I couldn’t quite see how that would have worked but otto explained that it was quite easy to barge the hurdles over with her chair and they came in second.
So I feel incredibly privileged to live in a society that can provide all of that. But I am a bit of a natural worrier and I do worry that this is all quite fragile. Things do fall apart. It is a very rare and privileged society that we have built for ourselves here and now. But it is not a society that has existed in other times and other places. I don’t think there is anything uniquely British or even Western about finding ourselves where we are today.